Monday, February 02, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 38

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Yoda Leahy-Hu and her agents arrive for their stake-out waiting for Garth Widor to walk into their trap as they check their headsets (Hu's on first). Kerr and Cameron, figuring out more details found on the statue of Beethoven, head for the old castle hoping to find the missing CD containing the complete score of Rob's opera. Tr'iTone is annoyed to have to deal with more intruders and captures Cameron; then Lionel Roth leads Dr. Kerr to the dungeon to rescue him. Fictitia arrives at the Castle and, after hearing a scream from inside, tweets for help.

= = = = = = =


Shortly after she'd arrived in New York – or more specifically, in 1985 – Klavdia Klangfarben had no idea what she'd do, beyond vociferously demonstrating for more scientific research into the field of time-travel. It could hardly make any serious impact since even among physicists it was little more than a science-fiction dream. Her goal, she knew, was to get back to the present somehow which had been that experience with SHMRG, before her well-meaning excursion going back to 1985 to rescue her mother.

No one took her seriously, least of all your basic mainstream physicists, just another crazy person carrying a sign: "What do we want? Time-Travel! When do we want it? That's immaterial!" How could she convince them she needed to return to the future by only a mere couple of decades?

It didn't help she couldn't remember how it was she'd gotten there except for the device she knew was responsible. The battery died and she ran out of time, so to speak. No store she could find had ever seen a battery like that and without it, she was irretrievably stuck.

It was one of the few items she could call her own, totally useless as the thing had proven, but through all those repeated years, she continued carrying it with her.

Finally, she'd found herself back in 2011 but only by traveling into the future the way normal people did, year by year, one day at a time, the standard time-space continuum. Scientists now may argue that quantum physics would imply something totally different, the way we perceive everything around us. There could be these ripples in time – she remembered experiencing that much – and there could be these parallel universes, but how all this had happened faded from her memory long ago.

She kept looking at this white device she held in her hand, hoping its comforting shape might activate memories or somehow unlock some incontrovertible proof of where it had came from. Her fellow street-people thought it was a stress-reliever like some futuristic sex-toy, but it really wasn't even worth that.

Only Klavdia Klangfarben was now twenty-six years older than she should be and everything in her life had completely changed. Because the Real Klavdia had changed her mind about going into music, she never pursued studies in Forensic Musicology. Finding herself a decent-paying job in business, she never collaborated with SHMRG. Klavdia had contacted her doctoral thesis adviser, the venerable Dr. Frikken Bøhr, hoping for some helpful shred of information – he'd once told her about parallel universes – but he didn't remember her.

Lacking any way of correcting her situation or making the present easier, she understood that she needed an identity, one that came with more than a made-up name or fake ID. Because she made a little money selling pilfered apples on the street, the others started calling her 'Mrs. Worthington.'

But how to find herself an identity beyond just papers evaded her until she met a woman quite by accident who, but for an accident of birth, could have been her sister. She saw her first near Lincoln Center, a well-dressed, cultured woman with silver hair who lived not far away. Klavdia's own hair had once been a massive plume of platinum blonde, though now closer to unruly steel wool. As age and circumstance made a difference, this was her best chance.

She had no idea who the woman was, but one night Klavdia accidentally stepped in front of her, startling her. Stopped in her tracks, the woman stared before gasping something in German. Then, as if an act of contrition, the well-dressed woman gave the tattered street person a crumpled five-dollar bill. "There but for the grace of God," the well-dressed woman had said, no doubt recognizing the fickleness of fate where only a fine line separated her from this poor homeless unfortunate.

One night after the opera, Klavdia followed her back to her house, an old brownstone building on 86th Street. It was then she started sizing up the situation, concocting her plan. She longed to trade places with her, not just having a place to live but a place like this.

Several times over the next few weeks, Klavdia 'accidentally' confronted the woman, each time smiling and nodding graciously to her. Initially, the woman seemed disconcerted by this apparition, perhaps some unwanted reminder. But eventually she found herself getting used to it and smiled back, occasionally slipping her a few dollar bills.

Then Klavdia decided it was now time to stay away several days, hoping the woman would notice her absence. The next time she saw her, then, the woman clearly looked relieved.

It was only a matter of time before she'd pass the woman enjoying lunch at a quiet sidewalk cafe and she'd invite Klavdia to join her on that crisp autumn afternoon. It was the first conversation they'd shared, inconsequential as it had been, but it seemed to broaden the boundaries.

The woman was older than Klavdia thought, perhaps by almost twenty years, but that didn't lessen their other similarities. Besides, who could ever imagine they would have much more in common?

A week later, Klavdia noticed her walking home, acting a bit 'tottery.' She followed her, sensing something was wrong.

After reaching the house and struggling with her keys, the woman fainted.

Klavdia helped her up the front steps, guiding her into the house.

She knew it was now or never.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

"This is awkward," I'd felt, following Lionel Roth down the strange hallway. "Why would I suddenly trust him, now?" He'd said nothing about what happened or where he was taking me. Just because he's a vaguely familiar face didn't mean he'd help me find Cameron much less help us escape. He could be leading me away from danger, for all I knew, off to some safer, if undisclosed, location, but certainly he knew my friend was in trouble and needed help.

And I couldn't help but wonder what made Cameron scream like that since he hadn't wandered away, but simply disappeared. He hadn't gone looking for the bathroom or fallen down some hole. He had been abducted, I was sure, and dragged into the wall. I, on the other hand, entered willingly.

Plus, I knew nothing about Lionel Roth that was at all reassuring beyond his being a composer who'd attended Benninghurst. Like many artists, he had an agent but his agent was Dhabbodhú. And wasn't Dhabbodhú the man I was convinced had killed Robertson Sullivan and tonight had threatened to kill LauraLynn? True, Roth had warned me my friend needed help that awful night, prompting me – too late – to run upstairs. I never had the chance to ask what he'd meant by that.

Unfortunately, now did not seem the best time to bring this up as we turned corner after unending corner, burrowing deeper into the bowels of this God-forsaken ruin of a castle. How could he tell where we're going, surrounded by silence and darkness, this man seemingly full of endless insecurities?

Also, if this was the same castle where the old Academy once met, that must've been Simon Sechter's statue. And wasn't that where they'd found Gutknaben's body so many years ago?

After a while, looking over his shoulder, Roth said it wasn't necessary for me to waste my flashlight's batteries. "My night vision's pretty good," he asserted, continuing to lead the way.

I, on the other hand, felt blind as a bat without radar, so I gave him points for that.

He told me how he'd started working to overcome his various fears, feeling he'd do better taking them on one-at-a-time. Tonight, he'd decided on overcoming his fear of darkness along with claustrophobia.

"Beats sitting in my room," he said, "doing nothing but crossword puzzles," something he often did all day long.

Now it's time for me to confront one of my biggest fears since no amount of procrastination would help. Like it or not, once I'd shouted Dhabbodhú's name, I needed courage.

Unfortunately, it was too late by the time I'd reached the dungeon, Cameron, already strapped down, unable to escape. When the monster looked up, he sneered and lunged at me, roaring.

The wall had started closing behind me, cutting off my only escape as Roth shrank back toward Cameron's table.

I held out the Beethoven statue as if offering Dhabbodhú a gift, hoping it might distract him for a moment. Could I manage to bargain with him, these clues for our freedom?

Would I have the necessary strength to strike him with it? Unlikely.

And there was no place to hide.

Dhabbodhú ripped the statue from my hand, that green felt covering falling off as he swung it toward me.

Everything went black as I noticed an odd design on its base.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

After helping the woman inside, Klavdia sat her down on the couch, checking her vital signs for any hope. Her speech was increasingly more slurred as she fumbled in her purse. Her last intelligible words were "blood-pressure pills," but Klavdia couldn't find them. "The woman's having a stroke," she thought.

By then, it was already too late. The woman's head fell back, her eyes, wide open, staring blankly ahead. In a matter of minutes, she'd no doubt be dead – or worse.

Klavdia Klangfarben exchanged clothes with the deadweight matron, transforming herself before turning the well-dressed woman into a homeless, nameless bag-lady, unmistakably assuring her new identity by leaving the time-device in her pocket.

Later, an elegantly dressed Klavdia hauled a bag-lady down the back alley to her old hang-out several blocks away.

The name on her new home's doorbell was Strether Lambertson du Hicquè, scion of the old New England du Hicquès who for generations manufactured odd little devices nobody knew what to call. When he died years ago, he'd left his widow a wealthy woman now styling herself the Countess du Hicquè.

"What imponderable luck, stumbling upon an old woman who looks like me who also lives in a great brownstone with lots of money and," Klavdia thought, "who called herself a countess!"

She also discovered the woman was a recluse living alone without children, her sole pleasure going to the opera. She had few if any close friends and supported even fewer causes.

Now, nattering on about time-travel, Klavdia wouldn't be crazy: she'd be eccentric. It was amazing what money could do!

Dining out the next day, Klavdia heard rumors how an old bag-lady – the one the others called 'Mrs. Worthington' – had been found in an alleyway, deep in a coma. "Stroke, apparently."

This gave her an idea, something she could now get away with. She'd long loathed this guy, Man Kaye, and ran into him in the park out on his lunch break. She made some fantastical proposition to him, a plot so riotously outlandish he swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Manfred Kaye was a would-be composer and go-nowhere mid-level executive at SHMRG but when he proposed this to his supervisors – killing off great composers from the past – it made him a laughing-stock. Pushing him out the window was easy. The initial verdict was suicide, but police found one prominently placed fingerprint.

Curiously, it belonged to a branch manager from a Hartford insurance company, someone in her mid-30s named Klavdia Klangfarben who also happened to have an air-tight alibi for that same evening.

More curiously, the grainy image seen on the SHMRG office's security camera matched some crazy old unnamed homeless person, a Jane Doe lying comatose in a hospital ward several blocks away.

So now it was time to wreak revenge on her greatest adversary, one bearing responsibility for Klavdia's greatest dilemma.

She had taken only a single class with Dr. T. Richard Kerr when she did her doctorate at Klaxon University but her grade wasn't the real reason she'd harbored this deep-seated grudge. There was some distant memory, perhaps from some more distant parallel universe, that he'd somehow foiled her every challenge.

It was enough for her to know she'd failed because of him, that he was behind this last catastrophe which also could explain her longtime hatred for any music by Beethoven.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

This was what it must be like, waking up to find yourself in a coma after you've had a stroke, your head throbbing with a splitting headache, unaware of anything around you. You can hear sounds but nothing you can recognize, everything muffled, muted, and you're completely immobilized, unable to respond. Since I'd never had a stroke before, it could also be, hypothetically – making up a list of assumed possibilities – coming to after being conked over the head with a blunt object.

It's not like I've dealt with blunt-force trauma to the head, either, but I'd watched enough TV shows to imagine what cops might say over my prone and possibly deceased body. Someone would be slinging around a bucketful of technical jargon, medical terminology, while the detective asked what that meant.

Nor did I have any recollection of a light coming toward me. My last memory, oddly enough, was seeing Beethoven. This led me to believe I'd not had any near-death, out-of-body experience. So I could assume at this point I was probably still alive and that, so far, was good news.

There's little else to recommend the circumstances, since they weren't very comfortable, nor was anything I imagined especially comforting, beyond the likelihood I wasn't dead yet – 'yet' being the operative word.

Determined to assess this unfamiliar situation logically, I took a deep breath, glad to discover I could still do that. If my eyes were open, I wondered, why couldn't I see anything? I could move my hands and feet, not my arms or legs; it felt like I was sitting up.

Though I couldn't feel or see it, the space must be small but not musty smelling like the passageway, someplace small, dark and silent – and I was strapped into a chair.

Not entirely silent, though: I could hear the distant sound of music, barely audible as if in the distance since it didn't sound like it was coming from inside my head.

Apparently I was in some kind of not quite sensory deprivation chamber: so, what was with this awful music?

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

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